Use PowerPoint to Teach Vocabulary & Higher Level Thinking

By Justin Lim on February 7, 2010

At the beginning of each year, I poll students concerning what they enjoy and dislike the most about English class. So far, learning vocabulary has a sizable lead in the most disliked category. During that same poll, I also ask students to list what they feel are their greatest strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. It shouldn't be a surprise to them that vocabulary comes up again and again as a weakness too!

When I first began educating, systematically teaching vocabulary was a problem for me. It seemed as though it was always the same. Either I would have students write definitions and write sentences with words in context, or I would have them do activities which involved drawing pictures or creating stories. The problem I ran into was that the former was not always effective, and the later would take too much time. After all, there was still the matter of teaching the lesson that the vocabulary went with!

Things changed for me after attending a seminar by Dr. Kevin Feldmen, one of the co-authors of Scholastic's reading intervention program, Read 180. Ever since adopting his strategies, my students not only are able to remember new words for the long-term, but they also look forward to the lessons!

Here's a systematic, engaging, and effective way to teach vocabulary using PowerPoint and higher level thinking.

Slide 1:

  • Give the students the target word to copy down and have them repeat after you while they are writing.
  • Have them "rate" the word by holding up either a 1,2,3 or 4 with their fingers. 1 = don't know it at all. 2 = I've heard the word, but don't know it. 3 = I kind of know the word. 4 = I've got it down. The very act of self-assessing will get them mentally prepared.
  • Tell students the part of speech of the word.

Screen shot 2010-02-07 at 6.55.17 PM

  • Reveal the definition. At this time the students will begin taking notes. Try to use definitions that are simple.

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  • While students are copying the definition, read examples to them. I usually don't have them copy the example sentences because it takes too long.
  • When they are finished copying the definition, read the examples to them a second time using the Oral Cloze technique. Leave out the target word for students to fill in.

Screen shot 2010-02-07 at 6.56.05 PM

Slide 2:

  • This is the critical step. Have students answer relevant questions using the target word instead of coming up with random sentences. This is effective because of instead of simply accessing the application level of Bloom's Taxonomy, they're doing more analyzing and evaluating, higher level thinking. 

Screen shot 2010-02-07 at 6.56.20 PM

  • After students have generated responses to at least the first question, conduct a pair-share, so that students can practice verbally using the target word correctly.
  • When almost everybody is finished, chime in and pose the question to the class.

The whole process can take some time when you first begin, but after students are used to the procedure, it becomes much quicker. Using this strategy, vocabulary has become engaging and empowering for my kids.

For my fellow Read 180 teachers out there who want to give this a try, let me get you off on the right foot! Download my PowerPoints for all nine Stage C rBook Workshops by clicking on the link below!

Download PowerPoints

What are some creative ways that you teach vocabulary?

Warm regards,

Justin Lim

Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District


Although this is an older post, I did want to say thank you for the tips. I teach ENGL 101 and I plan on using a version of this in the college classroom. Students have to learn a lot of content specific words for each unit, so this would help. Thanks. Also thanks for commenting about how these pre-reading strategies take time, so we can't take the whole class with elaborate vocab lessons.

I am so glad that you brought up this topic, Justin. In fact, PowerPoint use in the classroom came up in a grad research class I'm taking. The student researchers are of the opinion that PP is totally ineffectual. I reminded them that not all teachers use PP as we often find in meetings or college-level classes - YAWN. When used correctly and interactively, the kids LOVE it and YES - it is VERY effective!

As for teaching vocabulary, I am a huge fan of Foldables. We use a shutter fold w/the word, POS, and icon on front. The students write the definition and a sentence or story using vocab on the inside. This is their study guide. Now comes the fun part - Basketball Vocab Shoot-out! :D Once the kids have a good grasp on the vocab, we play basketball assessment. Students answer questions based on vocab, and when correct, they get a chance to shoot. I don't know if my kids just love vocab or if they love to shoot baskets! Wait a second ... I think I actually know that answer! ;) The bottom line is that they have become vocab whiz-kids!

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